Longing, loss and young love all crash together in this coming-of-age story of coping and acceptance.
Twelve-year old ZACH has had it up to his eyeballs with his fourteen-year old autistic brother, BRADEN, and his strange behavior. Braden counts doors and collects stickers and keys. Worse, he ruins the day Zach has been looking forward to for years, Link Day, when he would be matched with an older buddy who would be a cool dude, an amazing athlete, somebody normal! But Braden shows up and goes ballistic, smashes the classroom to bits and destroys Zach’s dream day right in front of his friends. Out of the disaster steps Sam, who Zach fantasizes to be his new brother. Is he real? No, but he is what Zach is desperate for--a normal brother. Sam guides and follows Zach to a drastic change in his life: middle school. But so do Braden and his antics.
Sam offers brotherly advice, but, at a time when hormones and independence collide with girls and adults, Zach feels powerless to do anything about the one constant: Braden. Their parents are busy at their jobs, unaware that the ‘brother’s keeper’ role they bestow on Zach is taking an emotional toll; peer pressure knocks hard; and two girls-a mysterious homeless one and a bold beauty-tug at his nearly teen-age heart.
Zach becomes obsessive about shedding the Braden factor. In a desperate move, Zach makes a grave error at Sam’s suggestion and sneaks to a party, leaving Braden home alone with his sisters. In his absence, a fire destroys their home and threatens the life of those inside. Fear and the trauma of the blaze drops Zach to a new low. He takes off in his father’s car and is injured when a police car accidentally rams him.
Conclusion: Zach’s sisters are saved from a burning, locked basement when Braden reveals he has the key (one in his collection) to unlock it. At the moment Braden saves his sisters, Zach sees Sam perish in the blaze, symbolizing a connection between his two "brothers". Zach receives professional counseling with the support of his parents who realize they have been putting too much on him and not attending to his needs. A tender, emotional moment is shared between Zach and his homeless girlfriend, Grace, who helps him understand what really matters. Zach begins mending his relationship with Braden with an emotional-laden question.
In the end, Zach’s transformation is one of learning his real brother’s virtues, understanding that longing is normal and realizing that the girls in his life are both complicated and fascinating.
Epilogue: the following year on Link Day, Zach comes full circle by volunteering to be matched with a student who has a disability, signifying a transformation in Zach of acceptance and affirmation that all lives matter.
Plot/Idea: 10 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 10.00 out of 10
Plot: This plotting here is spot on. Readers will be engaged from first page and will identify with Zach's worries and challenges.
Prose: This middle-grade book has excellent, tight prose. The author peppers the story with sharp images, bringing Zach's challenges to life.
Originality: The creation of Zach's imaginary brother, Sam, shapes this poignant novel into an original story sure to engage and delight readers.
Character Development: Zach is a well-developed original character. His honesty is refreshing and captivating. Readers will love him.
Date Submitted: August 20, 2017